History of Bloomingdale
A HISTORY OF THE BLOOMINGDALE COMMUNITY
When Van Buren County was organized in 1838, it was made up of six townships, the northeastern of which was known as the township of Clinch. Subsequent divisions made this original township into four, namely Waverly, Almena, Pine Grove, and Bloomingdale, latter comprising the territory designated in the United States survey as town one south, range fourteen west.
Bloomingdale Township was organized in 1845. There were twenty-two persons on the assessment rolls as tax payers that year.
The surface of the township is rolling, and originally was heavily timbered with pine, hemlock, maple, beach, whitewood, ash, and walnut. The soil is fertile sand and clay loam so that in the quality and extent of its production, Bloomingdale township takes a front rank among the northern tier of townships in Van Buren County.
The first settlement in the township was made in the month of December, 1837, by a Myers family, consisting of mother, four sons, and two daughters from Oneida County, N.Y. where their father had died in 1826. In the spring of 1836 two of the sons started on foot and walked the entire distance from Genessee County, N.Y. via Canada to Michigan. One of the sons later that same year returned to New York and brought back the rest of the family. They located at first in White Pigeon, but one year later arrived amid snowy and wintry blasts in Bloomingdale Township “with no shelter awaiting them other than that afforded by the mighty monarchs of the forest”. The frozen earth—after snow one foot in depth had been melted away by a rousing fire—afforded them a resting place for the night. The next day a rude cabin was built which was followed soon after by a more substantial log house, 14 X 33 feet. Their nearest neighbors were seven miles distant.
The eldest son of the Myers family, Mallory, was twenty-three years old when he settled in the township, and in 1845 he became its first supervisor.
In this township is a typical Michigan village, that of Bloomingdale, a little to the west of the geographical center, located on what was known as the South Haven branch of the Michigan Central railroad, but later of the New York Central. This road ran from Kalamazoo to South Haven. Van Buren County Road No. 388 is the main east-west road through the village and County Road No. 665 is the main north-south highway.
The village is situated in the midst of productive general, fruit and dairy farm lands as well as orchards, and is surrounded by numerous near-by lakes, any of which may be reached by a few minutes drive, and which have made Bloomingdale the center of a thriving tourist and resort area.
Among the first settlers on land near what came to be known as the “Center” were Joseph Peck and family of Monroe County, N.Y., who in 1838 settled to the northwest. Later his brother Carlos and family came in the same locality, which became known as Pecktown.
Two miles to the south on Bear Lake, another group, established a settlement, the main industry of which was lumbering, and this settlement was called “Bear Lake Mills”.
To the north about two and one half miles, near Eagle Lake a third nucleus was located. Here were the families of Marcus Lane, Samuel Lane, and Harvey Howard.
Others pioneering in or near what came to be the village were the families of Harrison Cooley and Austin Melvin from Lorraine Couity, Ohio in 1852. Edmund Baughman and wife Catherine Baxter Baughman, who with his father and mother, David and Hetty Maria Baughman settled in the Evergreen District in 1853. Augustus Haven and bride Emily McLallun Haven from Shalersville, Ohio, who settled in 1854, located a mile west of where the village now is. Milton Healy who came in 1853 from Ohio, his wife Maria and her mother Mrs. Azuba Cooley, who came in 1855, and the Egbert Cooley family from southern Illinois, who made the long journey in 1857 with a covered wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen.
Other early settlers were Rufus M. Brown, Warren Haven, George W. Haven, Russell Loomis, James Baxter, Aaron K. Tedrow, Hyman Shaw, and Eli Bell, who all came with their families.
The first to actually settle upon the site of Bloomingdale was Henry Kilhefer from Ohio. About 1854 Davis Haven, Portage County, Ohio and the father of Augustus Haven, purchased 160 acres in the vicinity of the present Village, and soon after that the north half of Section 17. As an inducement to Mr. Kilhefer to settle here Davis Haven gave him an acre of land now embraced in the Depot grounds.
When Samuel Lane and wife Orrit, who had come a short time before from Monroe County, N.Y. to settle in Cheshire Township, arrived one spring day to make a new home in this settlement, they came into the pioneer region from the north down what has since been known as “Wiggins Hill”. Orrit, no doubt in sentimental and poetic mood, was much moved by the beautiful wild flowers growing abundantly through the woodlands and valleys and also with the hills and dales, exclaimed rapturously “Why, this place should be called Bloomingdale!” and Bloomingdale it has been ever since.
In the very early years of the settlement, there was but little contact with the outside world. Supplies had to be brought in from Paw Paw, fifteen miles to the south east, and since there were no roads, only Indian paths and trails through the forest, the pioneers had to make the fifteen mile journey on foot and carry home, with considerable effort, their supplies, generally in a strong bag slung across their shoulders. This journey consumed the greater part of a day, as they started early in the morning and many times did not return until late at night.
When it was necessary to make a new path, they did so by “blazing their way.” They would cut notches, or blazes in the trees, and use them to follow the path. Travelling by foot was followed by horseback and ox teams, which after roads begun to be constructed gave way to wagons, and still later to buggies. But even then travel was difficult during the winter because of snow and ice, and in the spring and fall because of mud, hub deep in many places.
“Pathmasters and overseers” of the highway were appointed at the yearly “town meeting” who were responsible for having certain stretches of road kept in passable condition. “Poll tax” was worked out during the fall and spring days of “working on the road”.
There were no doctors nearer that Paw Paw at first, but neighbors were helpful when sickness came, and medicinal herbs were gathered by the women, dried, and stored for time of need. These pioneers were well skilled in the use of home remedies.
In the fall of 1857 Henry Kilhefer (later spelled Killifer), who had been given an acre of land here, came on from Putnam County, Ohio, and erected a small building on what is now Haven Park, establishing his family in the second story, while he opened a store with a small stock of boots, shoes, and groceries on the first floor. He soon built a second store building, and later a third. Shortly afterward he was appointed postmaster and held the office until 1862.
In 1860 Messrs. Merwin and Brown opened a store on the hill about two blocks east of the present business section, and prior to 1869, Messrs. Barber and Lane established a mercantile business. Here also were two hotels, a drug store and dress making shop. A fire in 1868 destroyed a number of these buildings, and in 1870, when the railroad came through, the town moved west so as to be near the depot.
One of the first industries was that of lumbering. From an article in the Kalamazoo Gazette of March 12, 1939, we quote “There were two steam saw mills operating night and day.” (The first one was a portable one set up in 1870, and sweating horses laborously drew over primative roads, furrowed with deep ruts, what seemed an endless supply of sawlogs. These loads of timber scaling 100,000 board feet daily, were literally fed in a steady stream to the saw mills which in 1874 were filling contracts for 3,000,000 feet of ash, whitewood, and cherry lumber.
Another industry was that of cheese making. Augustus Haven, who was interested in dairying, began in 1860 with a herd of twenty cows the manufacture of cheese, the first to be made in the state. In 1870 he began using the milk from his neighbors cows, and by 1872 he had sold 26,000 pounds of cheese. In 1873, cheese was made from the milk from 200 cows. The first recorded sale of cheese was at ten cents a pound, butter brought the same price. Other early industries were a cooper shop, brick kiln, a planing mill, a shoe making shop, a cabinet shop where, among other articles, coffins were made, two blacksmith shops, a washing machine manufacturing shop which put out a wooden machine known as the “Little Big Washer”, and an apple evaporating plant.
Later came a creamery, a canning factory for fruits, a pickle factory which later was changed to a salting station, and a feed mill. Still Later there was organized in 1903 the Lumber and Produce Company. In 1914 the Adams Cement Burial Vault business, in 1920 the Standard Oil Bulk Station , the Maplewood Dairy, the corn dryer for drying certified hybrid seed corn, and a Green House.
The line of a railroad was located in the Village in 1869 and the first passenger train arrived on the fourth of July, 1870, which imbued the Village with new life, attracting new businessmen and helping the town to prosper. By 1912 business was booming, with three daily passenger trains running each way during the week and two on Sundays. A fourth handled the freight. By 1929 hard times fell and train travel was limited to one train per day..
On August 13, 1938 Oil was discovered on the Wiggins farm at the north limits of the Village. Over 108 wells were drilled within the Village , many being successful. By 1939, two refineries were erected in the Village, the Fortdale and the Glenco. Most products were shipped out by tanker truck. Also as many as 84 railroad tanker cars of crude oil were shipped per day by rail. Two to three trains per day kept the oil moving to Kalamazoo to another refiner. There were no producing wells south of the rail road tracks.
By 1941 the boom was over and the end of the oil business came in 1963. The end of the railroad was in sight when South Haven began receiving coal by boat instead of rail. Kalamazoo to South Haven rail road service ended in March of 1971 and the rails were removed in 1977.
In 1988 the Village received a $100,000 grant to renovate the Depot. The dedication of the Depot and Museum, registered as a Michigan Historical Site, was September 19, 1987 with The Honorable Meyer Warshawsky, 36th District Judge, giving the address. At the same time the Kal-Haven Trail Club worked hard to establish the biker, walker and snowmobile trail on the old railroad bed and was successful in getting the State to buy the road bed which is now the first linear State Park in Michigan. Thousands of bikers, walkers and snowmobilers now use the Trail each year.
Today many small and medium sized businesses can be found. Commercial services such as a bank, full service grocery store, restaurant, convenience stores, funeral home, realty and insurance services, gasoline stations plus the Bloomingdale Telephone Company and Bloomingdale Communications serve the area. The largest growth in business seems to be small businesses running out of private homes.